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The morning commute instils murderous feelings in us all from time to time. But if you were to act on your impulse, you’d be joining an inglorious tradition dating back to 1864, when banker and pillar of society Thomas Briggs was thrown to his death at Hackney Wick on the North London Line, and became the first murder victim on Britain’s railways. Amid swirling anti-German sentiment and unreliable evidence, an impoverished German tailor was hanged for the deed. Christopher Durlacher’s docudrama (based on Kate Colquhoun’s book, ‘Mr Briggs’ Hat’) employs news reports, court transcripts and contemporary accounts to piece the case together.
The details are compelling, but wider issues are only sketchily addressed and with no great insight: the expanding railway network was a cause of excitement and fear; the popular press was booming; the wealth divide was gigantic. Who knew? But at least the parade of unknowns playing parts including the police inspector, the cabbie and the prostitute avoid the worst excesses of hammy silliness all too common in such films. ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ covered similar ground to greater effect (and, in fairness, on a far bigger budget), but this is still a sound if inessential slice of the capital’s social history.